In the late 1980's we were one of the first companies to introduce PC expansion boards for practical applications. Initially these were used to develop and supply laboratory based ultrasonic "C-Scan" systems, particularly scanning acoustic microscopes for high resolution imaging of small parts such as integrated circuits.
The potential of our equipment was recognised by industrial customers and we were tasked with designing larger and more complex machines. One of the first such applications in 1990 was the inspection of double curved jet engine parts made by the new process of SPFDB (superplastic forming and diffusion bonding). An immersion system was developed for non-contact scanning using high frequency ultrasound, a very early example where a complex surface profile was followed by programmed manipulation of a probe using a 5 axis mechanical system. This machine was used continuously in a production factory for more than 15 years. We also manufactured mobile systems for inspection of the external surface of hollow railway axles using a "pig" which was propelled down the bore.
At that time the mechanical scanners were designed and manufactured by sub-contractors, with USL designing and making the electronic modules and integrating these with custom designed software to produce a complete machine.
During the 1990's companies such as Rolls-Royce plc and British Aerospace encouraged USL to produce larger ultrasonic scanning systems for industrial use. In 1990 we supplied a machine in UK for inspection of carbon fibre composite parts produced for the manufacture of aircraft. This was followed in 1999 by a more sophisticated machine for use in testing parts for the Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft. The machines were designed to inspect complex shaped parts without physical contact, using water jets to transmit the ultrasonic signals – so called "squirter" systems. Machines had been manufactured previously for similar applications by competitors, but never for complex shaped parts. By this time we were designing and manufacturing all parts of a complete system, including the mechanisms, and this has continued to the present day.
Since 2000 our inspection systems have increased in size and often in complexity to meet the demands of our customers. We now have users in every continent and large machines have been installed in countries such as China and Japan. We continue to develop new electronics , mostly based on the original concept of PC expansion boards. The current range of ultrasonic boards matches or exceed the performance of comparable equipment from any other supplier, whether PC based or more traditional. In addition it has such versatility that it is applied in uses from high resolution inspection of titanium fan blade materials, through testing of highly attenuating aerospace composites, to in-line go/no-go inspection of tubes.
We have supplied our electronics and software on an OEM basis to system integrators. Increasingly testing systems manufactured by competitor companies are being upgraded by USL to improve their capability and reliability.